Today’s Frenetic Pacing

We read for two reasons. Information or entertainment. Informational reading has no competition. The various media do, but not the reading itself.

On the other hand, recreational reading, entertainment reading, has an ever increasing array of competing activities. Video games, computer games, board games, TV, Netflix and Amazon streaming, movies, sports activities, plays, concerts, and the list goes on.

Today’s writers, particularly indie writers, it seems to me, feel the need to compete with today’s cinematic pyrotechnics, and the ever increasing graphic sex and violence the visual entertainment media are portraying.

Today I just want to focus on pacing. I’ll talk about sex and violence another time. Of the books I’ve recently read, the pacing falls into two distinct camps. I’ll call them thriller-paced and literary-paced.

Thriller-Paced

Everywhere we readers look, we see books advertised as fast paced, as page turners, or that the pages even turn themselves. The thriller is everywhere. It’s taken over the mystery field, it’s gone into outer space, it’s pervasive in science fiction, and it’s even moved into horror.

Frenetic pacing is in. To the detriment of the reading experience.

Recently I read a space opera by a supposed USA Today bestselling author. I say “supposed” because writers are scamming the system by riding to “Bestseller” status in boxed sets where their name doesn’t even appear in any of the advertising.

Anyway, I read an advanced reader copy of Book One of the series, which had recently been rewritten and expanded, with the intent that I’d write a review. I’m not sure that I will, because I don’t have much good to say about the novel. And Book Two wasn’t much better. I eventually just stopped reading it.

I can’t say either book was bad. But I can’t say either one was especially good either. The writing, on a technical level, was fine.

What torpedoed the reading experience for me were the characters. They were flat, insipid, and pretty much lackluster. To the point where I didn’t really care what happened to them.

The author spent the entire book doing nothing but piling on crisis after crisis. There was no breathing room. And his paltry attempt at trying to establish a romance element fell flat on its face for me because even that seemed to be nothing more than following the  “insert romance here” point on the plot outline.

When I finished the first book I was so exhausted from the pacing, I almost wished everyone would die just so I could get some relief.

Now I know a writer must make his characters suffer, otherwise there is no story. But ask yourself this: how often in real life do you have days where not a single thing goes right? I’d hazard a guess they are darn few. So why in these “thrillers” are we asked to accept an entire book where the good guys have nothing but bad hair days for days and days and days on end? Because even on bad hair days something usually goes right. But not for the fictional characters.

Quite honestly, I don’t really care about plot. If the characters are interesting — real people, with real problems — whatever the story is, it will be the story of the characters. Ray Bradbury said, create your characters, let them do their thing, and there’s your story. Why don’t writers follow this?

Instead, they focus on trying to write a well-crafted plot and then insert the characters into it. The end result is that the characters are no better than marionettes and even less interesting.

Today’s plot-driven thriller is wooden and uninspired and, frankly, exceedingly boring.

I’ve made a deal with myself. Thrillers and USA Today bestselling authors are off my reading list. The books I’ve read by bestselling authors and those marketed as thrillers are mediocre at best. And why read mediocre or bad books when so many good ones abound?

Literary-Paced

What I’m calling “Literary Pacing” is normal pacing. The pacing employed by Isaac Asimov, Rex Stout, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Lawrence Block, and Edgar Allan Poe. Or the pacing you’ll find in such books as Costigan’s Needle, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, When Worlds Collide, The Handmaid’s Tale, Hidden World, and The Day of the Triffids.

The above mentioned authors and books (and the list barely scratches the surface) have one thing in common — characters we care about. Comte Saint-Germain. Archdeacon Grantly. Scrooge. Nero Wolfe. Matt Scudder.

Literary pacing doesn’t mean there’s no excitement. There may be fight scenes, or car chases, or gun fights, or tense escape scenes. These, however, are scattered throughout the story. Occurring naturally as the characters go about their business of telling us their stories. And that’s the key: the characters are telling us their stories. Not the author.

Literary pacing occurs when the writer writes character-based fiction. It’s not about the plot. Good fiction is never about the plot. It’s about the characters.

We don’t remember Gone With The Wind for the thrilling plot. We remember Scarlett and Rhett. “Hills Like White Elephants” isn’t remembered because of the plot. It’s the characters that make the story. We don’t remember The Lord of the Rings because of the plot. It’s a ho-hum quest story. We remember the book for the characters — both good and bad. Because both the good guys and the bad guys in The Lord of the Rings are memorable.

Plot-Driven vs Character-Driven

Many of today’s indie writers are so concerned about cranking out the next book, all they focus on are the story beats and the outline. Making sure they’ve hit all the plot points at just the right time. The resulting fiction is mechanical at best. A fast-moving piece of mediocrity. An eminently forgettable book.

On the flip-side, even mediocre character-driven stories can stay with you for decades.

Who remembers the 1956 sci-fi novel Tomorrow And Tomorrow by Hunt Collins (aka Ed McBain)? Yet that book has stayed with me ever since I read it when a kid some fifty-plus years ago. Why? The world Collins created and the characters. Especially the characters. I don’t remember their names, but I remember them.

Recently I read the Dave Slater mysteries by PF Ford. I like Dave and his sidekick Norman Norman. They are “people” I care about. And what makes the stories good is that they are the stories of Dave and Norman.

Ford’s novels aren’t just plots into which he plunked down some characters. No, he did the Bradbury thing: created his characters, let them do their thing, and the result was their story.

The late Elizabeth Edmondson’s A Very English Mystery series is the same. Real people doing their thing — and we get to read the delightful tales as a result.

I think today’s rash of thrillers is the result of indie authors trying too hard to make a buck. It seems to me they think if they can just throw more action, more sex, more blood at the reader they’ll get more fans and more money.

Unfortunately for them, this reader has been turned off. Anything labeled fast-paced or thriller won’t get my buck. Neither will anyone spouting off they are a USA Today bestselling author. The books are disappointing and my time is too valuable to waste.

Comments are always welcome, and until next time — happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Happy Anniversary!

Three years ago this month I self-published my first four novels. The Morning Star, Festival of Death, The Moscow Affair, and Do One Thing For Me. I was excited and filled with anticipation of good things to come. Now, three years later? Well, let’s just say reality is sobering. Not that I regret the past three years. They’ve been a grand learning experience.

The Good

I’ve self-published 20 books so far. And am looking at launching a new series in the beginning of 2018 and perhaps a second series later next year. I’m doing what I always wanted to do — write books and see them in print.

Today’s digital and print-on-demand technology makes self-publishing easy. It also gives me complete control over my work. There is no corporate bottom line that must be met. The only person who affects my success or lack thereof is me.

I firmly believe in the free market. I don’t believe in any gatekeepers other than the reader. For far too long editors at the big corporate publishers made or broke the careers of writers. The annals of publishing are replete with horror stories of the damage the big corporations did to writers. Now we are free. We no longer need them. And that is a very good thing.

Writers, for the first time in history, have all the tools at their disposal to produce work that rivals or surpasses anything the publishing industry corporations can put out. And writers, for the first time in history, can make far more money than ever before by publishing on their own.

This is a great day for writers and I’m very glad to be alive to see it. For myself, I’m not making great money at self-publishing. But I am making a little bit. And my books will be available until Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble go away. Which probably won’t be for a very long time. Most likely longer than the 20 or so years the actuarial tables give me. And they will be under my or my heirs’s control.

The Bad – or What I Learned the Hard Way

Unfortunately, self-publishing is a bed of roses — complete with loads of thorny stems. That is, there are both positives and negatives to it.

If I could do it over again, I’d spend two years learning the business end of self-publishing — before publishing anything. Because self-publishing is publishing your own books. And to make money, significant money, at self-publishing — one needs to know business.

The writer needs to know his or her audience and then develop a strategy to reach that audience. If he or she doesn’t, then failure will result. That is, few or no sales.

I’m not saying the writer must write to market. Although that’s what most writers have done for the past couple of centuries if they wanted to make money. But even if you are writing a literary novel or a mixed genre novel, you still need to know who might want to read the book. Dean Koontz writes multi-genre blockbuster-type novels. Nevertheless, even though they contain a bit of romance and a bit of the thriller and a bit of sci-fi and a bit of horror, there is one genre that sticks out more than the others. In Lightning, I think it’s the science fiction. In Midnight, it’s techno-horror. As an indie author, if you write that sort of novel, knowing your primary genre will aid in your marketing.

Of course for every rule there’s someone out there who didn’t follow it and went on to make lots of money. But generally speaking, most of us need to understand business and follow good business practices.

Right now I’m playing catch-up and learning the business end of the writing business.

The Ugly – or Hazards and Pitfalls

Wherever money is to be made, the piranhas, and sharks, and bloodsuckers begin closing in. They operate on the supposed saying of P T Barnum that a sucker is born every minute.

Sometimes age is an advantage. I’m 65 and for over 50 years I’ve been reading books and magazine articles on writing and publishing. I’ve taken creative writing classes and courses. I went the traditional publishing route with my poetry. I can honestly say I’ve observed a few things in my time. And the most important is that there is nothing new under the sun.

Today, I see new and wannabe authors being taken in by the middlemen. Everything from expensive covers to expensive formatting to expensive marketing or writing courses to the latest and greatest software. The vultures are circling and trying to take your money.

Now some folk have the money to spend on all this stuff. Still, I don’t think they should. Most everything a writer needs to know or get can be gotten for free or for a very minimal fee.

There are so-called experts who want to teach you how to write a bestseller. Yet they don’t earn their living by writing fiction. If what they have to teach is so wonderful, why aren’t they writing bestsellers themselves? I’m amazed that writers who take these courses don’t ask themselves this question.

Or what about the successful fiction writer who no longer writes fiction. He, instead, makes his money selling his course on marketing fiction. Why? Because it’s easier to teach than to write. For that person writing is not his passion. Making money is.

Or what about the folks who say you have to have a professional editor go over your manuscript? Or a professional cover artist produce your cover? Hundreds of writers spend tens of thousands of dollars every month on these extravagances when they have no idea if their book will even earn them one dime.

You don’t need a professional editor. If you know how to write, know how to tell a good story, all you need is to proofread your manuscript. But you don’t know if you can write a good story? Then find someone you trust who will be honest with you and have him or her read it.

People say don’t use your family. I say use them if you have a family member who cares enough about you to tell you the book stinks if it in fact does. Kazuo Ishiguro threw away an entire book when his wife told him it stunk. I’m lucky. I have my daughter and my sister. Both can be and are brutally honest. I trust them to tell me if something isn’t working.

Don’t get sucked in by the money grubbing middleman. Edit your own book until you know you can make money. Then hire it out only because it gives you more time to write.

If you can’t design and produce your own cover, then find the least expensive pre-made you can find and use it. This is an area I fell down in. I didn’t understand cover design. Now I have a much better grasp of it. One book worth your while is Derek Murphy’s Cover Design Secrets.

The best resources are actually free. Kboards is indispensable. Loads of valuable advice in the Writers Cafe. There are many closed groups on Facebook for writers. Two good groups are The Author Helper and 20Booksto50K. But as with everything, weigh and evaluate all the advice. Not everything works for everybody.

I’m lucky. I’ve spent very little money procuring bad advice or worthless software. Part of that is due to my age. I’ve pretty much read and seen it all. Sure, the scammers give things new names. But it’s still the same old stuff. Don’t pay for it. Get it for free.

Summary

Three years ago I started self-publishing. I thought I’d done my research. In truth, I didn’t do enough. The indie world was changing just as I got on board. What I learned was old info that didn’t really help me much, because it no longer applied to the new reality. Now I’m taking a much more cautious and deliberate approach.

I am still convinced the indie way is the best way for writers. Why? Because you control your rights and you have the potential to make way more money than your corporately published counterparts.

I have no regrets going the self-publishing route. I’m learning from my mistakes on the business end. Hopefully in the next three years I’ll be making some significant (for me, that is) money from my writing. Being retired I don’t need much. Just enough to cover my expenses and maybe give me a thousand a month to supplement Social Security and my pension. If I can do that, I’ll be a happy camper. A very happy camper.

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, happy reading (and writing)!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Anthony Trollope on Speed Writing

At every turn, indie writers are encouraged and urged and pressured to write faster. Quality seems to be a second thought. Just as long as thousands of words are written every day, the indie writer is told he or she is on the first step to success.

Books abound telling us how to write faster. The following appeared on the first page of an Amazon search: 2K to 10K, Fast Fiction, Write Fast, 5000 Words Per Hour. And of course the authors of these books are making money hand over fist by telling us how to write faster. But none of the authors of those books are in the same league as Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Stephen King, Sandra Brown or Dean Koontz. Generally speaking the writers of how-to books don’t make their living by writing fiction. They make their money telling wannabe writers how to write. And that should be a warning to us all.

There is no secret to writing fast. To put it bluntly, all one needs to do is to park one’s butt in a chair for a set amount of time, cut the distractions, and write. As Australian science fiction and fantasy writer Patty Jansen has said, 1000 finished words each day will produce at least four novels per year. At the end of three years a writer could have four three-book series for sale. That is a solid step in the direction of writing for a living.

Four weeks ago I mentioned Anthony Trollope’s method for producing three-quarters of a million words per year. In his own day, the Victorian novelist was known as The Writing Machine. In an era when artists were supposed to work by inspiration, Trollope quite baldly and boldly showed that successful artists work by perspiration. Let’s expand a bit on Trollope’s method.

Anthony Trollope viewed writing just like any other business. To be successful, one had to have goals and then set up a plan to meet those goals.

In several different chapters of his Autobiography, Trollope gives us a window into his working life as a successful author. I recommend that every writer read Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography. It’s available for free at Project Gutenberg.

Goals

Trollope’s overall goal was to be a successful author, which by his definition meant he had to earn a livable wage from writing.

The first step in achieving that goal was to write books. For each novel, Trollope set a date for the novel to be completed and submitted to a publisher.

To hold himself accountable, he kept a writing diary and recorded his progress in it. In that way he didn’t have to guess if he was making progress towards his goal. He knew how much he had written every day. He also knew if he was slacking off. The diary was his production manager.

By setting a goal, Trollope had made a commitment. We all know the benefit of setting goals. We also know the benefit of being held accountable to reach those goals. Trollope held himself accountable by means of his writing diary and his desire to earn a livable wage from his writing.

In the end, we are the ones who are responsible for our own success.

Write Every Morning

To achieve his greater goal, Anthony Trollope set smaller goals. Goals that could be achieved every day, and thereby be an encouragement to him.

He set aside three hours every morning as his writing time. This was a daily goal.

He got up at 5:30 AM, spent the first half-hour reviewing the previous day’s production, then wrote for the remaining 2 1/2 hours. Afterwards, he dressed, ate breakfast, and went to his day job at the post office.

Why write in the morning? Why not in the evening? Trollope doesn’t specifically tell us. However, he was a very busy man. He had a family and a full-time job. He was a social person and, after a day at the post office, he’d go to the club, visit with friends, play whist, and two or more times a week he’d go fox hunting.

Practically speaking, that only left mornings in which to write — and early mornings at that.

Psychologically, though, writing first thing in the morning says something else. It says we value it above everything else in our day. It’s so valuable that we make sure we get it done before we do anything else. Even eating breakfast. Whether Trollope realized it or not he was telling himself that writing was the most important thing in his life.

Lawrence Block noted he was fresher first thing in the morning. The issues of the day hadn’t filled up his mind yet. So in addition to the psychological value, writing first thing in the morning means we get to start with a clean slate — and thereby hopefully produce our best work.

Write To The Clock

It’s one thing to get up at 5:30 AM to write and it’s another thing entirely to produce something in the three hours you’ve set aside to write.

Trollope left nothing to chance. To sit and stare at the wall or out the window, waiting for inspiration to strike, was not the Trollope way. He was a busy man. He had to make the most of his time. And make the most of it, he did.

After reviewing the previous day’s work, Trollope took out his watch and set it on the table. He took out a sheet of paper, dipped his steel dip pen into the ink pot, and commenced writing.

Writing 250 words per page, he turned out one page of his novel every 15 minutes. One thousand words per hour. Two thousand five hundred words, or 10 manuscript pages, by the time his morning writing session was over.

By setting both a daily goal and an hourly goal, Trollope could gauge his progress. And we all know how exhilarating even small successes can be.

By writing to the clock, Trollope produced 47 novels, 17 works of nonfiction, 2 plays, 44 short stories, in addition to numerous articles, lectures, and letters. And all that in the span of 35 years, from 1847 (when his first novel was published) to December 1882 (when he died).

Summary

How did Anthony Trollope produce a full-time writer’s output only writing part-time?

He made efficient use of his time. In a nutshell, this is his method:

  • Write at a set time every day.
  • Write for a set amount of time every day.
  • Write a set amount of words in that time every day.
  • Set a deadline for the work to be completed.
  • Keep a diary of your progress to inspire you or chastise you.

Two thousand five hundred words each day will give you 912,500 words a year. That’s seven 120,000 novels. Or eleven 80,000 word novels. Or eighteen 50,000 word novels.

Honestly, does anyone need to produce more than that in one year?

As always, comments are welcome! And until next time, happy reading (and writing)!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Interview with Author Ben Willoughby

Today I have the privilege of interviewing one of my favorite indie authors, Ben Willoughby. We first ran across each other on Twitter, and since then I’ve gotten to know him and his writing. So without further ado, let’s chat with Ben.

CW: Tell us a little about yourself.

BW: First, thank you for inviting me to partake in this interview! I’m flattered to have the honor of talking on your blog!

CW: You’re welcome.

BW: My name is Ben Willoughby, and I’m a happily married husband with a beautiful wife and a lovely daughter who turned three last October. I’m an indie writer who’s mainly dabbled in fantasy as well as horror. I have a dieselpunk trilogy I’m currently working on. In my full-time job, I’m a graphic designer.

CW: You’re a bit like me. Writing in several different genres. What did you read as a child?

BW: I really got into mysteries and science fiction as a kid.

For mysteries, I ate up every single Sherlock Holmes book Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, as well as many of Agatha Christie’s Poirot books.

For science fiction, I read a lot of HG Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Jules Verne, and AE Van Vogt.

When I first started writing for fun at thirteen, I tried to come up with my own mysteries, but could never really finish them. Some have said you should write what you enjoy, but I’ve found I can rarely figure out how to do a straight up detective novel.

I also read heavily into military history. My dad was an officer in the army (he’s since retired), so I grew up with a lot of his old books laying around the house, and was exposed to them. By middle school I had a better knowledge on events like the Napoleonic Wars or World War II than most kids my age.

While my family was stationed in Europe in the mid-90’s, I would go to school and read Erwin Rommel’s World War I memoir Infantry Attacks, and I got to go to the Waterloo battlefield for my thirteenth birthday. I could never get into historical fiction – I think the only historical fiction book I read was The Killer Angels, which was later turned into the movie Gettysburg.

CW: Very interesting. Similar interests, you and I. Aside from writing, how do you spend your free time?

BW: I do artwork, whether it’s sketching or graphic design. My main full-time work for the past decade has been in graphic design, as well as motion design and editing. This has helped me in my writing, since I’ve been able to design my own covers. With the exception of Gods on the Mountain, where I used a freelance artist to paint the cover for me.

I also do a lot of personal study on various topics. My favorite subjects are military history and theology.

And of course, when my daughter is awake, and is in the same room as me, she always desires daddy time.

CW: Yes, there is always the requisite “daddy time”.

BW: There is.

CW: Being a writer, you’re also a reader I would guess.

BW: Yes.

CW: How many fiction books do you read a year?

BW: I read quite a bit, though I don’t know if I can really pin a number on it. If I had to “guesstimate,” I would say about two dozen a year. Part of the problem is finding the time to sit down and read – I’ll get involved in another project, or have to spend time with the family, and by the time I’ve sat down in a place where I can read, I’m too tired to mentally focus. I’ve been getting better about it recently, however.

I also read quite a bit of non-fiction on top of fiction. I recently read a book on what life in England was like at the turn of the first millennium, and am now going through a book on Martin Luther.

CW: What book do you think everyone should read and why?

BW: This is a hard question to answer, because obviously not every book is going to be for every person’s taste. Any book I say, there will most likely be someone out there to say it’s not for them, or could never, in any way, edify them.

CW: Fair enough, so tell us instead about a book that has influenced you as a person.

BW: I used to have an enormous, single volume of Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible.

CW: Hey, I had one of those! A great Puritan commentary.

BW: Yes, it is. His analytical way of thinking, and explaining everything as if he were writing a sermon, influenced how I read things in general, which was carefully, word for word, and with a larger picture in mind. It did way more to assist my understanding of comprehensive reading than any test I took in school did.

CW: Spot on about Matthew Henry. Okay, you are being exiled to a small island in the Pacific. You can take 3 books with you. What books would you take and why?

BW: a. The Bible, to maintain my faith and knowledge in true wisdom.

b. The Encyclopedia of Military History by the Dupuys. I used to read that for fun as a kid. There’s enough information in there to pass away eternity and a day.

c. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, because that’s good sci-fi. (Also, fudge the movie.)

CW: Very interesting choices. So now tell us about a book that’s influenced you as a writer.

BW: It’s hard to pin this down exactly on any one book, because obviously we glean from everything we read, and there are plenty of authors out there who have influenced us. If I had to point to one (in a collective sense), it might be George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The earliest books did a great job not only in character development, and every character feels different in their motivations and desires, but the worldbuilding was also excellent. Westeros felt like a real, functioning world. I won’t say his worldbuilding is perfect, as there are a few parts I find a tad bit contrived (eg., one house ruling the same position for thousands upon thousands upon thousands of years), but compared to other works, it’s much more polished. To step into the story is to step into another land.

It’s a bit sad for me to say all this, and I hesitated doing so, since I’ve stopped reading the series long ago. George R.R. Martin takes decades to write one book (confirming my earliest fears that he was the new Robert Jordan), and his storyline has gotten bogged down in so many subplots he’s now admitted he’ll have to write several more books. Also, it’s quite obvious he’s sold out to HBO. But that’s another rant for another time.

CW: Of all your books, which one is your favorite and why?

BW: I find myself still going back to my novelette The House That Homed. It was a lot of fun to write (about three-quarters of it was complete, on-the-spot improvisation) and it showcases my sense of humor, which admittedly is pretty unique and relies heavily on non sequitur. Whenever I pick it up and reread it, there are scenes (like Officer Bruce’s meltdown) that still make me crack up. There are also some parts that will reenter my head as I’m out and about and make me chuckle (like the “It’s the Kickstart guys again” line).

CW: Oh, yes, The House That Homed is fabulous. Superb dark humor. Now, if I hadn’t read any of your books, which one should I start with and why?

BW: In all honesty, probably one of the last ones I published, Mannegishi. I think it’s the much more polished of much of my work, in terms of development, story, and build-up. I was also pretty proud of how I developed each of the individual characters, and how they relate. This was the book where, at a pinnacle point in the romance subplot, my wife actually lamented, “I don’t even care about the aliens anymore!” It was also a lot of fun to write scenes involving exchanges between certain characters, such as the scene where Rick and Lucy have some brief convos, or all the scenes where Sam and Rick go at each other, and so I feel like those scenes really work.

CW: I haven’t read Mannegishi yet. It is, however, on my list. Thank you, Ben Willoughby, for chatting with us today.

And now here is a bit more about Ben, where you can find his books, and get in touch with him.

Ben Willoughby was born in the United States and, being a military brat, ended up seeing a lot of it (along with a foreign country or two). At a very young age, he found a love for reading. At the age of 12, he found a passion for writing. In his late 20’s, he decided to pursue publishing many of the ideas and concepts he had developed over the years. He currently lives in Ohio with his loving wife and young daughter. When not writing or reading, he spends his spare time sketching and smoking his pipe.

You can find Ben’s books at:

https://www.amazon.com/Ben-Willoughby/e/B00WV2OQI2

Ben’s website is: http://benwilloughbyauthor.blogspot.com/

And you can find him on Twitter (https://twitter.com/BenWilloughby84)

and Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13877156.Ben_Willoughby)

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Anthony Trollope: The Writer’s Writer, Part 2

Last week I wrote that the Victorian writer Anthony Trollope is my writing mentor. He is the one who keeps my feet on the ground when it comes to writing and advice and writing fads.

This week I would like to continue exploring what today’s indie authors can learn from Anthony Trollope. Let’s look at a few more areas where he can teach us valuable lessons.

Gadgets

Lots of writers spend lots of money on all manner of gadgets and software to help them write. I think it is an age thing. Those who grew up with computers are more likely to be attracted to gadgets to help them write.

But gadgets do not make the writer.

Trollope wrote with a steel dip pen, ink, and paper. That’s it. No Scrivener. No Dragon. No Hemingway Editor. No classes to learn how to use Scrivener. And certainly no computer.

We don’t need gadgets to write well. We might think we do because we live in an age filled with gadgets. What we really need to write well, is to know how to tell a story. And sad to say, gadgets can’t help us with that.

There is plenty of evidence that shows writing by hand will produce a superior product. And Trollope has shown us that we can produce 10 books a year simply by using pen and paper.

We don’t need gadgets and we don’t need to spend the money to buy the gadgets or learn how to use them. Writers write.

Beats, Structure, and Formulae

Many of my fellow writers obsess over how to tell the story. They get all wrapped up in making sure they have all of the story beats that somebody told them they needed. Or they struggle to fit their story into three-act structure or five-act structure. Or they slavishly follow Lester Dent’s formula or Freitag’s Pyramid.

To my mind this is all crazy. It’s a waste of time. Most of it anyway. We all know conflict drives a story. The conflict can be external or internal. The conflict can be subtle or violent. We know we have to batter our protagonist until he or she reaches down deep to draw on that inner strength that enables him or her to triumph.

So do it. Just tell the doggone story.

Once again, Trollope shows us how to do it. In his Autobiography, Chapter 5, he wrote:

“[The Warden] has a merit of its own,—a merit by my own perception of which I was enabled to see wherein lay whatever strength I did possess. The characters of the bishop, of the archdeacon, of the archdeacon’s wife, and especially of the warden, are all well and clearly drawn. I had realised to myself a series of portraits, and had been able so to put them on the canvas that my readers should see that which I meant them to see. There is no gift which an author can have more useful to him than this.”

Characters. Well drawn and believable characters. That’s what it’s all about. They’re the secret to telling your story. Not beats or formulae. Ray Bradbury put it this way: create your characters, let them do their thing, and there’s your story.

We can spend all the time we want making sure X happens at the one fifth mark of the book and that Y happens at the one third mark of the book. That the mirror point happens precisely at the 50% mark. Etc. etc.

None of that makes for a good story unless one has good characters. As Trollope noted in the seventh chapter of his Autobiography:

“A novel should give a picture of common life enlivened by humour and sweetened by pathos. To make that picture worthy of attention, the canvas should be crowded with real portraits, not of individuals known to the world or to the author, but of created personages impregnated with traits of character which are known. To my thinking, the plot is but the vehicle for all this; and when you have the vehicle without the passengers, a story of mystery in which the agents never spring to life, you have but a wooden show.”

Sure there has to be a story, and Trollope admits this, but the story, the plot, is secondary to the characters. Plot exists in order to bring out the characters of the story. Characters that come across as real. Characters that make us laugh and tug at our heartstrings.

Therefore, create good characters, throw problems at them, and let them do their thing. Letting a story unfold organically will always lead to a better story then one forced into some kind of mold.

Reviews

Writers today obsess about reviews. If they get one bad review, their world seems to fall apart.

Let’s face facts. There are going to be people who don’t like what we write. There are going to be people who love what we write. And there are going to be people who think our writing is okay but no great shakes.

That’s the name of the game. And to top it off, the public is a very fickle creature. What’s hot today will be cold tomorrow.

Trollope had his share of adverse publisher and reader reactions. His first three books sold nothing. As in zero copies. At least that Trollope was aware of. In fact, he didn’t even get paid for the first two because apparently the publisher didn’t make any money. For his third book he received a £20 advance. And that was all the money he ever saw for it. Again, because the publisher didn’t make any money on it.

After those debacles, Trollope didn’t doubt that he should try to be a writer. He accepted the public’s opinion that they didn’t like those books and decided to try his hand at a play. When his friends told him to go back to novel writing he accepted that too. But he never doubted that he could be a writer. And that’s important. He had self-confidence. He just had to identify what the problem was that other people were signifying that he had.

And the problem for Trollope turned out to be subject matter. Apparently the English public wasn’t ready for Irish novels, or historical novels (at least how Trollope wrote them).

So Trollope turned to writing a contemporary novel set in a fictional English cathedral city. With The Warden, his fourth novel, Anthony Trollope finally made some money. In two years, he made a little over £20 from royalties. Or about $2700 in today’s money. Two years later, Barchester Towers was published, for which he received an advance of £100.

Trollope had finally achieved success. He hit on a subject the English reading public liked. His strength was in writing contemporary novels about the people in his own class. And he did it well. Mostly because his characters are so delightful.

The lesson for us is if we wish to make money writing, then we need to write what we know and write what resonates with the market.

Many writers eschew writing to market. They somehow think that sullies their reputation or the literary quality of what they write. But stop and think about this for a moment. Shakespeare wrote to market. Dickens wrote to market. Longfellow, about the only poet who ever made a living from poetry, wrote to market. There is nothing wrong with writing to market, unless one does a very bad job of it. And unfortunately there are writers who do.

Writing to market simply means you’re writing books or short stories that people want to read. Trollope’s Irish novels are very good, but no one in the 1840s wanted to read them. Trollope loved Ireland and could have written lots more Irish novels, but he wanted to make a living from writing and knew that if he persisted in writing Irish novels he would not be able to accomplish his goal. So he eventually turned to writing about the other thing he knew — his own class, and the reading public devoured his books.

Regardless of what he wrote, Trollope’s goal was to write the best book that he could. Shouldn’t that be our goal? And does the genre or subject matter truly matter that much?

If you like science fiction, and military science fiction is all the rage, then write the best military science fiction novel that you can. Trollope didn’t especially love English cathedral cities. But he knew the setting would enable him to write about the people he knew and from that produce good books. If we want to be successful, doesn’t Trollope’s attitude and approach make sense?

When we get bad reviews, we should look at what the people are really saying. Maybe they’re telling us something, and maybe we need to take heed of what they’re telling us. Trollope did, and went on to become a very successful author.

Anthony Trollope is a person who can show us how to triumph in adversity, set a dream for ourselves, and through perseverance and astute observation achieve that dream.

You can get Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography for free at Project Gutenberg. It’s a marvelous handbook for success.

As always comments are welcome, and until next time happy reading and writing!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Anthony Trollope: The Writer’s Writer, Part 1

The Victorian writer Anthony Trollope is my writing mentor. He is the one who keeps my feet on the ground when it comes to writing and writing fads. For even though he lived in the 19th century (1815-1882), he was very much a 21st century indie author in sentiment.

In his own day, he was a popular novelist. Not on par with the likes of Dickens or Thackeray, nevertheless his name was more or less a household word. He wrote what would probably be called today slice-of-life mainstream fiction. Novels about the goings on of upper-class English society, for the most part. His books tend to be light, have plenty of humor, and a healthy dollop of social satire.

What can today’s indie authors learn from Anthony Trollope? Just about everything to guide and direct our attitude and to developing a methodology towards maintaining a writing career.

Let’s look at a few areas where I see my fellow authors struggling to come to grips with the writing life and where Trollope can teach us valuable lessons.

Quitting the Day Job

On Facebook group after Facebook group, I see my fellow writers in a frenzy to write and sell enough in order to quit the day job and write full-time. And in this frenzy they fall victim to all manner of hucksters selling (operative word here) services and advice. (NB: I don’t mean all the middlemen catering to writers are hucksters. Just remember, though, PT Barnum’s quip: a sucker is born every minute. We should strive to not be the suckers.)

Anthony Trollope, on the other hand, shows us we can write full time by writing part-time.

Anthony Trollope was a busy man. He worked full time at the post office (he invented the iconic British pillar mailbox). He was a social man. He went hunting at least twice a week, frequently played whist, visited with friends, and spent at least six weeks out of England on holiday. He was also married and had a family. He was a very busy man indeed! He did all of that and devoted three hours every day to writing, which he did in the morning before going to work.

And from those three hours each day of writing he produced a large body of work. In the course of a 35 year writing career he produced 47 novels, 44 short stories, 17 books of nonfiction, 20 articles, 2 plays, plus numerous letters.

Anthony Trollope proves one does not have to quit the day job to be a full-time writer. Because one can be a full-time writer writing only part-time.

Productivity

Go to any Facebook writer’s group and at some point a discussion will arise regarding writing speed and daily word production. One can find books on how to produce 5000 or 10,000 words a day. Of course those books are for sale, which gives us an idea as to how those authors earn their living. One of the latest fads on how to get more production is dictating one’s novel. And the fads keep on coming.

In the end, the only way to produce a high word count each day is to put your butt in your chair and write. Avoid distractions and write.

One hundred sixty years ago, Anthony Trollope showed us a very simple way to produce enough words in a year to be a prolific author. In his own day, Trollope was known as The Writing Machine.

He got up at 5:30 AM to began his three hour stint at writing. The first half-hour was spent reviewing the previous day’s work.

Then he put his watch on his desk and began writing for 2 1/2 hours. Trollope’s goal was to write one page, 250 words, every 15 minutes. At the end of his writing session, he’d have 10 pages or 2500 words.

If a writer today maintained Trollope’s pace every day for a year, he or she would have written 912,500 words. That’s very close to what Dean Wesley Smith calls “Pulp Speed” (which is writing over 1 million words per year). Those 912,500 words are enough for ten or eleven 80,000 word novels. Seriously folks, do we need to produce more than that in a year?

Trollope proves no writer needs to resort to Herculean efforts to produce a sizable body of fiction. Ten novels a year writing part-time is nothing to sneeze at.

Rewriting

Part of the key to high word counts is not rewriting and minimal editing.

Anthony Trollope did not rewrite. He also essentially did no editing. When he finished a manuscript he was for all intents and purposes finished with it. He sold it to the publisher as is. If the publisher did any editing after they got the manuscript, we don’t know. I doubt they did a lot, because mid-series in The Barchester Chronicles Trollope changed the name of one of his characters. He didn’t catch it and neither did the editor, if there was one.

As Dean Wesley Smith points out in his blog post on pulp speed writing, prolific authors don’t rewrite. They basically don’t have time to invest that much effort into any given manuscript. The prolific writer writes, it’s as simple as that. The goal isn’t perfection, the goal is production of decent and acceptable work.

I hear writers all the time talking about the number of edits they put a manuscript through, the number of beta reads, and how many professional editors they hire. Whereas, if they had gotten the manuscript right the first time they could’ve saved themselves a lot of time and money. And maybe even written another book.

Now I’m not advocating for sloppiness. I take pride in my work and while I don’t rewrite I do perform a modicum of editing. I make sure that I catch as many typos as I can and get rid of as many clunky sentences as I can. Which is basically what the pulp fiction writers did. And Anthony Trollope was setting the pattern long before the pulp fiction era.

Get in practice to write it right the first time. Academicians, who don’t make their living by writing, have spun the myth that the first draft is crap. There are scores of writers who made and make their living writing who say that advice is crap.

Write so your story is right when it goes on paper the first time. It saves time and money in the long run and time and money equals more books, which means more money — for you.

Next week we’ll continue our look at what Anthony Trollope can teach us writers in the 21st century.

Trollope is a person who can show us how to triumph in adversity, set a dream for ourselves, and through perseverance and astute observation achieve that dream.

You can get Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography for free at Project Gutenberg. It’s a marvelous handbook for success.

As always comments are welcome, and until next time happy reading and writing!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Interview with Karen J Carlisle

 

I’ve never been a fan of time travel, yet I realized very recently that right here on planet earth we do time travel all the time. Today’s guest lives in my future and I live in her past. That’s because she sees the sun before I do and for other very scientific reasons.

I first met Karen on Twitter. I think it had to do with our mutual love of tea that we followed each other. Then we ran into each other on the now defunct Steampunk Empire. And we’ve been in each other’s future and past ever since.

So all the way from the future in Adelaide, Australia, we have with us Karen J Carlisle and she is going to talk to us about herself and her new book.

CW: Welcome, Karen! Glad you can visit with me here in the past. At least it’s the past for me. For you it’s the present.

Karen Carlisle: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get in practice for being the Doctor’s next companion.

CW: My pleasure. So, tell us a little about yourself.

KC: I’m a science geek. I’m a Doctor Who fan. I’m an artist. I love to garden. I’ve played D&D since 1979 and have been a historical re-enactor since 1994 (though I don’t get much time to do it now).

When I left school, I wanted to be a writer, an archeologist, a photographer, a cinematographer, an artist, an astronaut and the Doctor’s next companion. Instead I did my B App Sc and became an optometrist.

After a few false starts and an unexpected, and forced, career change, I’m now pursuing my first love of writing. I work more hours than I ever did before. And I’m loving it. I get to create things. (Some people even like them.) Bonus!

CW: What did you read as a child?

KC: The earliest recollection is a book from primary school: ‘Stig of the Dump’ by Clive King. For some reason that one sticks in my head. My favourite childhood book was ‘The Dark is Rising’, by Susan Cooper. I’ve just finished re-reading it. Still love it.

I moved onto crime and mystery, delving into Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Sherlock Holmes books. A librarian, who wanted to expand my reading diet, introduced me to ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ and then I gorged on fantasy. Science fiction wasn’t far behind. I think I’ve read just about every Star Wars novel and Doctor Who novel that was published in the 70s and 80s. So, most of my literary diet is fantasy, science fiction or mystery-who-dunnits.

CW: Aside from writing, how do you spend your free time?

KC: I love to create.

I’ve been a costumer since 1980 (my first fan con was Conquest in Brisbane). I do photography, draw (pen and ink mostly. I have some of my work on Redbubble). I’m also a Doctor Who fan (since early 70s) and an old movie buff.

I spend a lot of time in the garden – though I’ve neglected it this year. I have a chemical-free (mostly) edible garden, and companion plant garden as well.

There are way too many things to distract me. I can’t list them all here.

CW: How many fiction books do you read a year?

KC: I’m a notoriously slow reader these days. I used to read a few books a month when I was at university.

These days (due to an extraocular muscle imbalance – oh ugh, technical jargon.), I can manage one a month. This year, I’ve struggled to complete three, as I was ill most of summer and am slammed with a writing deadline at the moment. Though I still buy books as if I was still reading at Uni-speed.

My ‘must must- read’ pile is nudging nineteen books. Guess what I’m doing when this book is published?

CW: What book do you think everyone should read and why?

KC: 1984 by George Orwell.

I studied this book in high school. It’s a cautionary tale for those of us who value personal or thought freedom, and a handbook to those who seek to control the masses. Read it.

These days, I see parallels all around me. Social media playing Big Brother – watching our every move, And we let it happen. Ordinary people participate, swept up in the group mentality, while those who shout the loudest vilify and control those on the fringe, or those with differing opinions.

Governments are defunding arts and declare words, such as ‘climate change’, should not be used in official documents and research. Both are known tactics when trying to curb independent thought and control a population.

It’s all there in 1984. It’s been used before, to great (and detrimental) effect… And we all know how that ended.

Or is that being too cynical?

CW: No, not at all! 1984 is one of the all time great books. It is definitely a must read, as you say, if we care at all about our actual liberty and our freedom to think. And again, as you point out, we do indeed know the real life exemplars of 1984 ended.

So tell us, now, about a book that has influenced you as a person.

KC: Okay, this will get a bit deep and meaningful now. If I dig down to my philosophical and emotional core, the New Testament of the Bible had the earliest and lasting effect on me.

I was brought up a Methodist but taught to question why, and not follow blindly. I believe if we treat others equally – as we expect to be treated – then the world will be a better place. No strings attached. No caveats. No buts. Everyone has a right to live and love. This hope keeps me going, gets me through moments of anxiety.

Bill and Ted (as in Excellent Adventure) got it right: Be excellent to each other.

CW: It is the Golden Rule in practice. You are absolutely right: if we only followed it, our world would be a much better place for everyone.

Okay. You are being exiled to a small island in the Pacific. You can take 3 books with you. What books would you take and why?

KC: Argh, the answer changes whenever I get asked this question; it depends on my mood and where my headspace is in at the time.

Right now? In no particular order:

  • Lord of the Rings (the trilogy in one book — even if that is cheating). I find the story full of hope, of undying friendships, loyalty and love, and good triumphing over evil. All these things seem to be of lower priority these days, but it is something most people crave. I need a friend who will keep looking for me and rescue me, or at least do regular book drops. (Or at least will help me hide the bodies… Did I say that out loud?) Plus I have a thing for Aragorn.
  • Blue Moon Rising by Simon R Green. This is my ‘comfort book’. I read it first in the 80s. It’s a feel-good, fun adventure, with a spirited female character and an unlikely hero. Its voice is easy to read. It always makes me feel better.
  • A never-ending notebook (and pencils). If I couldn’t write while I’m there, I’d go absolutely barmy! (NB: I take it an unending dark chocolate supply is a given, right?)

CW: We’ll make an exception on the dark chocolate, just for you. Now tell us, please, about a book that’s influenced you as a writer.

KC: I can’t confine myself to one. I’d say it’s a combination of writers – Agatha Christie (many of my stories end up with as mysteries), Conan-Doyle (Sherlock Holmes – for mysteries and that slightly off-kilter Victorian feel), and Gail Carriger (for her voice, which she calls comedy of etiquette. I wish I’d come up with that phrase!)

CW: Of all your books, which one is your favorite and why?

KC: Of the books I’ve written? That would be ‘Doctor Jack’.

I’ve always had a fascination with Jack the Ripper – not the creature himself, but the history and mythology that has been woven around it. Who was he? Will we ever know? Why did the chief of police really scrub away the graffiti on the wall – was it political, was it a cover up? Why didn’t they use some of the latest forensic methods, such as fingerprints (the new technique had been used in France)? Was there a conspiracy? Why weren’t some of the newspaper eye witness accounts used in the coroner’s court? There have been so many theories over the years, yet we are no closer. It is the ultimate true crime who-dunnit. It was a story rife for speculation.

I wrote ‘Doctor Jack’ as an experiment in writing from the villain’s point of view. Every bad guy thinks he’s the hero of their own story. They have their own loves and hates, their own dreams and goals. I wanted to show that , and perhaps have the reader understand his thinking, without necessarily condoning it. I mean, the murders were horrid.

CW: If I hadn’t read any of your books, which one should I start with and why?

KC: Start with Doctor Jack & Other Tales (paperback).

This is the first paperback in the first series I’ve written. You can read each story separately; they are complete in themselves, but there is a background story arc threaded through them, which concludes in The Illusioneer (I’m working on now).

If you read the ebooks, start with the novella, Doctor Jack – my retelling of the Jack the Ripper story. Doctor Jack was my favourite story to write. You can go back and catch up on the first three short stories, which fill in the background. However, Doctor Jack does have a spoiler for the second short story, An Eye for Detail.

CW: Where we can find your books?

KC: You can find shopping details and links on my webpage: www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop

They are available via various online bookstores in Australia and internationally, including:

Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia, Fishpond, Angus & Robertson/Bookworld.

You can also buy the paperback direct from me (if you live in Australia).

CW:  Would you give us contact information, such as a url to your website, Amazon page, Facebook page, or wherever else we can find you?

KC: Sure!

Web: www.karenjcarlisle.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kjcarlisle

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarenJCarlisle/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/KarenJCarlisle

CW: Thank you so much for visiting with me in the past. I hope things are just fine in your present, which is my future. Goodness. Thanks again, Karen, for visiting. All the best to you.

KC: Thank you for having me on your blog!

CW: And if you head on over to www.karenjcarlisle.com and answer today’s question, Karen will put your name into the hat for a chance to win an ebook of one of Viola Stewart’s adventures. That is a very good deal!

 

 

Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, ‘Hunted’, was featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.

She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.

The Illusioneer & Other Tales

Viola Stewart returns for a third set of adventures.

Viola needs a holiday. But, even at the beach, or while partying on the grand tour of Europe… there are things afoot.

Seeing is believing… or is it?

The Illusioneer & Other Tales: The Adventures of Viola Stewart Journal #3 is currently scheduled for release in late October/early November.

For more information, sign up for Karen’s newsletter: http://karenjcarlisle.com/sign-up-email-list/

 

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Buying Online

As far as I’m concerned, the brick-and-mortar store is a dinosaur waiting to become extinct. I have been a mail order shopper since I was a kid. There’s just something magical about getting packages in the mail. And with the advent of the internet, my mail order shopping — now called online shopping — has dramatically increased.

I regularly buy the following online: books, music, clothes, shoes, paper, pencils, pens, ink, tea, special food items, cat food, cat litter, soap, razor blades, vitamins, toothbrushes, and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.

My wife buys most of her art supplies online, as well as toys for her grandkids.

Shopping online is my kind of heaven and I can’t wait for the day when I can do all of my grocery shopping online.

Being a reader — and a book buyer — my decision to buy online is of importance to brick-and-mortar bookstores and traditional publishers, both the corporate giants and the small press. Why? Because 63% of traditionally published adult fiction was bought online in the US in 2016. And the trend isn’t reversing. (Data from authorearnings.com)

That means trouble for physical bookstores which is where traditional publishing has for over a century done business. It also spells trouble for traditional publishing companies because their traditional sales outlets are disappearing.

Many of you are aware of the Amazon-Hachette fracas. As physical bookstores disappear and more and more print books are sold online, the online stores — we’re really talking Amazon here — are going to have more and more clout. And while Hachette got more or less its way this time, I doubt Amazon will be so nice in the future.

But that’s not all, traditional publishing is tied to the physical book. Yet last year in the US, 70% of fiction sales were digital. That’s ebooks and audiobooks. And when we add in that 42% of all adult fiction was non-traditionally published in 2016, the way the book business has done business is fast becoming a thing of the past. (Data from authorearnings.com)

Non-traditional publishing consists of indie author/publishers and Amazon. Yes, Amazon. The mega-giant is setting itself up as a publisher. To date, Amazon has 17 imprints. They regularly recruit authors to publish through them and offer those authors, generally speaking, contracts which are far less draconian than those of traditional publishers. It truly is time to beware the beast.

Why do I buy online? Because it’s easy, and I like getting packages in the mail. I have, quite literally, the entire world from which to choose whatever I want to buy. Can’t quite say that when I go to the local shopping mall. Plus I have to drive there.

I am, though, concerned about my online shopping. Mainly because it feeds the mega-giant Amazon. The Zon makes online shopping so easy, it’s difficult not to buy from them. It takes a conscious effort to not buy from the Zon. And I have to admit, I’m rather lazy about exerting that effort.

Recently I did buy a pair of jeans from The Duluth Trading Company. Excellent service and product, by the way. And I bought a pair from Lands’ End. Again, excellent service and the product was very good. Zappos is another fine online store.

I buy pens and ink from small online retailers such as Jet Pens. chewy.com is an excellent online source of pet food and supplies.

Nevertheless, the Zon is the 800 pound gorilla on the block and it takes much diligence to avoid the beast. And quite honestly, there are times when I’m just too lazy.

For indie authors, I think we already know where the future lies. It lies in ebooks and audiobooks. Print books aren’t necessarily a thing of the past, but as we baby boomers die off and generations take over who grew up in a digital world — the paper book will become a specialty item. Akin to handmade paper, or handmade wooden kitchen utensils, or custom made shirts.

The only real question facing indie authors is how much clout are we going to give Amazon? Are we going to invest our futures to the Zon? Or are we going to support competing enterprises, such as Apple, Kobo, or Scribd, or Findaway Voices (an ACX alternative, available through Draft2Digital).

Because if we indies tie ourselves to Amazon’s shirttail, then we have to go where they go — and what happens when they stick it to us, as the traditional publishers did so very many, many decades ago? Then where will we go?

A very difficult decision. Very difficult.

As an online buyer, I need to ensure that I don’t help create a monopoly that will in the end bite me. I must diversify my purchases. So fellow online buyers, lets not feed the Zon. Let’s put it on a diet.

As indie authors, let’s seriously consider a publishing world where the only distributor is Amazon. I know that isn’t a nightmare I’m willing to have.

Comments are always welcome! And, until next time, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Horror, Weird Fiction, or Dark Fantasy?

I will be launching a new series, probably in the new year. I have the first three books written and am in the editorial process.

Ever since I conceived of the series, I’ve been scratching my head as to what to label it. My inspiration came from The X-Files, Stranger Things, Charles Stross’s The Laundry Files series, and HP Lovecraft (both his Cthulhu Mythos and non-Mythos stories). The series draws on the quasi-scientific, supernatural, and paranormal. There be monsters here! As well as psychological elements of fear and terror.

So what exactly am I writing? Is it horror fiction? Or weird fiction? Or dark fantasy? Maybe it’s dark speculative fiction. Or perhaps it’s simply paranormal fiction.

For the series title I chose the word “paranormal”. Pierce Mostyn Paranormal Investigations. Mostly because “paranormal” anything is hot right now. But as noted above, like The X-Files, Pierce Mostyn investigates the quasi-scientific, the pseudo-scientific, as well as the supernatural and paranormal. Anything that is weird and might be a threat to the good people of the United States of America. See my dilemma?

My old Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition defines horror as “the strong feeling caused by something frightful or shocking; shuddering fear and disgust; terror and repugnance.” Therefore, a horror story is one that would induce fear, terror, disgust, repugnance, or shock.

Weird, on the other hand, is “suggestive of ghosts, evil spirits, or other supernatural things; unearthly, mysterious, eerie, etc.” The dictionary goes on to say “weird applies to that which is supernaturally mysterious or fantastically strange.” Weird fiction, then, would be fiction that induces a more general feeling of fear or uneasiness. A story that leaves one with an unidentifiable feeling of dread. Although one reviewer on Amazon was of the opinion that weird fiction puts the protagonist into a situation where no choice he or she can make is a good choice. If that is the case, then to my mind weird fiction sidles very close to horror.

Dark means “hidden; secret; not easily understood; obscure; evil; sinister.” So dark fantasy would be fantasy that explores the hidden, secret, evil, or the sinister. And could easily leave the reader with a feeling of dread. Identifiable or not.

The Pierce Mostyn series might induce fear in some, and certainly deals with those things that are hidden, secret, evil, or sinister. The series also explores that which is supernaturally mysterious or fantastically strange.

I suppose it all comes down to what’s my primary intent with the stories. My guess is I’m probably going more for the weird impact than anything else. But then again, each story might be different. Certainly that was the case with The X-Files, or Night Gallery before that, and The Twilight Zone before that.

Any suggestions will be very much appreciated. Please leave them in the comments.

My Interview

On a separate note, my interview with fellow author Andy Graham went live on Thursday, September 7. You can find it at One Book Interviews. The interview was fun and challenging. Trying to find just one book for each of Andy’s questions. Just one. Difficult, a bit of soul searching, and yet fun, because I got to revisit lots of great books in my mind. And put a few on the reread list!

Please, do check out the interview. And while you’re there, take a look around Andy’s site.

Comments are always welcome, and, until next time, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Slow

If you look at just about any book ad or Amazon genre page, the words that most often jump out at you are “fast paced” and “thriller”. Or you might find phrases like, “the pages turn themselves”. Or subtitles packed with the words, “gripping”, “shocking”, “thrilling”.

As a reader, it seems to me, writers are hellbent on jacking up my blood pressure and giving me cardiac arrest. The scribblers are doing their best to push frenetically paced everything down my throat. Can’t wait to get my copy of the new gripping, thrill-packed, and shocking edition of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, where the recipes make themselves.

I blame the furious pace of contemporary fiction and the taste for such stuff on generations that were raised watching Sesame Street. If any kid’s show was designed to produce and then cater to hyperactivity it is Sesame Street. For those of us raised on Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street’s fevered pace is apoplectic.

Of course, there are those who disagree and they’re free to do so. As with anything, there is probably more than one cause. In addition to Sesame Street one could blame texting, with its abbreviations and clipped text.

Contemporary TV shows, playing to the Sesame Street generations, jump from scene to scene, throwing a tumult of disconnected storylines at the viewer that I often find it difficult to follow.

I know, I know, we baby boomers are dying off. Nobody gives a flying fig about what we think. But quite honestly, what’s the rush? Why do the pages have to turn themselves? Can’t I pause a moment and smell the fictional rose? Can’t we follow Simon and Garfunkel’s advice? “Slow down, you move too fast. Gotta make the morning last.” Seriously, night will come all too soon. Why rush it?

For me, a story is to savor. As with making friends, it takes time to get to know the characters and to decide if I want them for friends. So much of today’s writing is plot-driven tripe lacking in what makes life worth living: people, and beautiful things and experiences.

Just imagine if one of today’s thrilling writers were to write “Hills Like White Elephants”? The main characters would probably chug down their beers, and charge onto the train, without ever having a word of conversation. Yep, a fantastic story that.

I don’t want to bump and grind my way through a story. I want to savor it, like I do a cup of tea, or a plate of spaghetti with my favorite sauce, or a crumpet dripping with butter and orange marmalade.

For me, a slower paced story that is packed with suspense, and sprinkled with action, where I can grow to love the characters, and want to read more about them — that’s what I want to read.

I don’t want to read about cardboard people racing hell for leather through situation after situation that in the end I could not care less about.

Unfortunately, for me, what that means, practically speaking, is that entire genres and sub-genres are leaving my reading list. I even find myself abandoning contemporary fiction altogether, in favor of older books because the pacing is often slower, with a focus on building suspense and giving me a main character I care about.

Yes, I’m willing to admit I’m the odd man out. That I’m in the minority. Today’s majority wants herky-jerky story presentation and frantic action. But as P. F. Ford notes in his ads, if you want character and humor rather than blood and gore, then his books are for you.

Nice to know I am not alone.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

Share This!
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest